The Little Prince (Khanh Doan) and the aviator (Lamar Legend) bond in the Sahara. Photo credit: Elise Bakketun
In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s book “The Little Prince,” an aviator crashes his plane in the middle of the Sahara and encounters a mysterious, other-worldly boy known simply as the Little Prince. While the aviator attempts to fix his broken aircraft, the prince tells him about his travels in the universe and shares the important life lessons he’s learned from those he’s loved and lost along the way. This is the premise, too, behind the theatrical adaptation, “The Little Prince,” by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar now playing at Seattle Children’s Theatre.
The bottom line
Condensing this beloved classic into a one hour and 45 minute theatrical production was ambitious, and it shows. Your kids will like it, even if you find it more challenging, as I did. The play struggles at times in clarity and continuity, but it makes up for that in high entertainment value.
Though it’s recommended for audiences ages 6 and up, I took my (wiggly) 5-year old-son and (easily distracted) 6-year-old daughter. They were both captivated enough to sit still throughout the entire performance.
One reason: The show features beautiful costumes, stunningly designed props and an engaging set that makes artful use of light projection throughout the production. One example of creative staging is a small backpack that sits on stage beneath a spotlight before the play begins, prompting children in the audience to wonder what’s inside.
The aviator’s crashed airplane — a centerpiece of the set — looked so lifelike that my son begged to climb in it after the show. Likewise, the snake's intricately beaded headdress is nothing short of spellbinding; I couldn’t stop staring at it. The desert terrain-inspired set featured actors taking the stage from various directions, with some even crawling out from the set’s “underground” at several points in the play.
Another high point: the acting. In particular, the cast’s two principal actors, Khanh Doan and Lamar Legend, deliver performances that both engage and inspire. Legend's angst-riddled performance believably captures the isolation of feeling like no one understands you, and does so in a way that both kids and adults can relate to. Likewise, Doan shines in her endearing portrayal of the Little Prince’s innocent and mysterious nature.
Parents should know
“The Little Prince” is a classic children’s story beloved by many generations, so readers of the book should be warned: Cummins’ and Scoullar’s adaptation features several departures from both the original book and the 2016 movie. Die-hard fans of the classic (like me) should be prepared for several discrepancies but may find the obvious nods to current cultural events pointed and poignant. Though kids may not necessarily pick up on the deeper themes (e.g. critiques of modern day materialism and "selfie" culture), adults will get a good laugh and maybe even a chance to reflect.
If you haven’t read the book, I’d say it’s worth a read before the show. Though the play attempts to cover a lot of the same themes as the original, its character development and storytelling are limited compared to the book. Audience members who have read the book may find it easier to keep track of the wide cast of characters and to connect to the lessons in each character’s story.
In this theater adaptation, the fox, who in my mind is the book’s wisest and most instructive character, is reduced to a playful pet. Without reading the book, the broader significance of the fox gets lost, including her relationship to the Little Prince and her role in his ultimate decision to give his life for the rose.
It’s also worth noting that this adaptation has some surprisingly mature themes, including loneliness, death and suicide. Most of those darker elements will be lost on younger audience members (as they were on my kids), though kids grappling with trauma or death may need a trigger warning, or at least a lengthy discussion after the play to help them process the Little Prince’s death. If you think your little one may be particularly sensitive to such heavy themes, or if your child has personally experienced the loss of a loved one, you might need to sit this one out.
And yet, the show’s most disturbing scene is also its most moving: The Little Prince needs to be reunited with his beloved rose and decides he must die in order to do so. In one of the most visually striking scenes I’ve seen at SCT, the snake bites the Little Prince and the set goes dark but for a light display of stars emanating from his body. In this moment, it really does look and feel as if his life force is escaping his fragile, ephemeral body and taking its place among the stars. During the performance we saw, a hush fell across the audience as the stars swirled across the backdrop of the stage and lit the dark theater.
I look forward to seeing more from the debut director, Courtney Sale. There were some powerful moments in this production. All-star acting, along with artful costumes and set designs, make this play well worth seeing if you’re up for some deep, potentially hard conversations with your kids after the show.
If you go…
When: “The Little Prince” is playing now through March 4, 2018.
Where: Seattle Children's Theatre at Seattle Center, 201 Thomas St., Seattle
Cost: Tickets range from $22–$39 (depending on day of performance). Rush tickets, if seats remain, are available for $18 one hour before showtime. Check the website for periodic accessible performances. Buy online.
Parking: Try street parking or one of the surface lots in the neighborhood, or take transit to Seattle Center.
Tips: Download the Active Audience Guide for kids' activities connected to the play. And plan to stay for the cast Q&A. It will help your child debrief some of the more challenging aspects of the play.
Nearby fun: Check out ParentMap’s guide to Seattle Center and don't miss the fantastic Artists at Play playground on the east side of the Armory.